April 4, 2004
When Adam and Eve sinned, God was not surprised. We don’t know why He allowed the fall to happen; as Alistair Begg reminds us, though, we can know that He is in control. The fall demonstrated that God’s primary concern is not our happiness but that His name would be magnified. Though we have no merit of our own, He graciously saves us through His Son according to His providence. Through this matchless act of love, His glory shines.
Sermon Transcript: Print
In reading the Bible together, we’re going to read from Ephesians chapter 1, and then I’m going to invite you to turn immediately to Genesis chapter 6. Ephesians chapter 1, and then we’ll turn to Genesis and the sixth chapter:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
“To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
And Genesis 6:1:
“When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were [very] beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.’
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward[s]—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.” (Please don’t come to me afterwards and ask me about that phrase.) “They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor”—or grace—“in the eyes of the Lord.”
Father, we pray that as we continue our journey this evening in trying to get the big picture of the Bible clear in our minds, that you will help us, and that the Spirit of God will be our teacher, for we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I need to say just one or two things before we resume this series. First of all, I’m on the receiving end of all kinds of individual questions as a result of these studies—that’s not unusual; it happens in the morning as well. I want to give a kind of blanket disclaimer and ask if you will forgive me for not answering all these individual questions. It really is… it is not beyond me, but it is more than I can do. And so, for example, the person who asked if I would tackle the question of the canon of Scripture, I can only say to you that if you get the tapes on Why Bother with the Bible?, I interact with it a little bit there, and if that is not particularly helpful, then I would encourage you to go to our good folks in the bookstore, and they will help you with material that is written helpfully on the subject of the canon of Scripture.
Someone else called to ask me about some of A. W. Pink’s comments concerning the destruction that preceded creation. I regretted the fact that when I looked down at Pink’s material last Sunday night, I read more than I intended. And it was never my purpose to read all of his statements. And unfortunately, as I was reading it, I couldn’t make sense of that myself. And consequently, I didn’t feel able to phone back and just be honest about my ignorance, although I’m confessing it freely now. I can only say to you that you need to get Pink and read him yourself, and I’ll try and read him again and see if I can make more sense of it than I did.
And then as I’ve said each Sunday night, this is a deviation from course: it’s not our standard pattern; we’re not expounding the Bible. It’s an uncomfortable experience in many ways, but it is what we’ve decided to do. And the final disclaimer this evening is that I promise you, we will speed up—we will speed up. At the moment, we’re buried in Genesis, and it seemed to me this week that I couldn’t even get out of it. And I know some of you are going, “Oh yeah, sure, this is an overview of the Bible? This is… we’re buried in Genesis, we’ll be here till about 2006, and the whole thing will go away. There’s no… He can’t do this.” Well, I’m beginning to wonder myself whether I can or not, and this evening won’t necessarily answer that, but we will in a week or two make a quantum leap forward, and we’ll begin to cover some larger chunks. And when we do that, of course, you’ll wish that we would slow down. So, I mean there’s really no pleasing people at all.
Now, if I can make my little thing work here… there we are.
We have dealt with the perfect kingdom and the spoiled kingdom, and we come this evening to the question of the promised kingdom, and, first of all, to the fact of God’s eternal plan. Having said we’re in Genesis, of course, we just read from Ephesians, and you say, “Well, how are we supposed to make sense of this?” Well, I read from Ephesians—and I think it would become clear why—because in Ephesians 1, we’re given a glimpse into the eternal plan of God. In Ephesians 1, perhaps as much as in any other part of the New Testament, we are treated to the fact that God is working from eternity to eternity. And Ephesians 1 covers the period of time—if we can speak of it in that way—before creation to after the end, if you like, and after things have been wrapped up. And we read from Ephesians 1 in beginning this in order to make this simple and essential point—namely, that God was not caught off guard by the fall. God was not caught off guard by the fall. When the kingdom was spoiled as a result of the activities of Adam and Eve, God was already cognizant of that. And Ephesians 1 makes clear to us that before Adam and Eve were created, before Adam and Eve were disobedient, God had already planned the rescue.
So, when we think about his rescue mission, which ultimately focuses in the cross, we ought not to see the cross as something that was supplied in a moment in time to correct a defect in a system that God did not anticipate, but rather, according to Ephesians 1, we see the cross of Christ grounded in the very eternal mind of God. And what Paul is saying there is that God had determined from all of eternity to call a people to himself through Jesus and to restore everything under him. “To bring”—verse 10—“all things in heaven and on earth … under one head.” Now, this is immediately mysterious. This is the kind of thing that you can get a few cups of coffee and stay up at night jawing with one another about and really making absolutely no progress at all. And the mystery is this: If God knew that the fall would happen, why then did God allow it? And the answer that the Bible gives is that it gives no answer. It does not answer that question. The Bible simply states that God is in control. And that one day the consequences of rebellion—of the spoiled kingdom, of Adam and Eve’s sin, the sin of all who have followed—one day those consequences of rebellion will be undone. And on that day, God again will be honored and glorified. And it is for this reason, Paul says to the Ephesians, that God has decided to rescue the world.
If you look down at your text—and I don’t know if you have it open there; I told you to open it at Genesis 6, and so you’ve probably been obedient and now you say, “Well, we should have kept it there as well.” Yes, probably you should. But if you turn back to Ephesians 1, you will see that the purpose of God in this was according to “his pleasure and will,” and it was “to the praise of his glorious grace.” The motivation in God’s eternal plan was not to make men and women happy—although men and women do become ultimately and gloriously happy as a result—but the reason that God determined to execute this eternal rescue plan was because he was concerned about his name . And he was concerned that everything should be brought under the feet and the control of his Son, the Lord Jesus. And he was concerned in this way because that is the way it ought to be: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.” So that God’s eternal plan of redemption is all about him, rather than all about us.
And that is a hard lesson for many of us to learn. We fit the profile of Carly Simon’s song so readily, don’t we? She won’t tell anybody who the person is, which is just as well, because so many of us fit the profile: “You’re so vain. I bet you think this song is about you, don’t you?” And we are so vain. We are so focused on ourselves that we think the whole eternal plan of redemption is about us. But it isn’t. It concerns us. It transforms us. But it is all about God. He has executed this eternal plan to the praise of his glory. And if we move around the Bible without this clear in our thinking, then it will be virtually impossible for us to understand the jigsaw of God’s great purpose.
If you think about children playing with a jigsaw on a rainy afternoon, and they’re sitting there trying to complete a jigsaw of a medieval court scene of a king who is surrounded by his courtiers. And they’re making a dreadful mess of it, and nothing seems to fit until one of the children turns the lid over and looks at the lid and says to the rest of the children, “Now I see it; the king is in the middle.” And that is exactly what this Ephesians 1 passage is saying to us: The king is in the middle. God is the center of his world. And since the fall—Genesis 3—men and women have refused to accept the right of God to be in the center and have expended their energies to try and depose him, and with catastrophic results. As a result, everything is spoiled: relationships are spoiled, sex is spoiled, money is spoiled, food is spoiled, vacations are spoiled, academia is spoiled. There is no dimension of life that is not settled with the dust of death, because man determined that he does not like the idea of God in the center of the picture—God enthroned in might and in majesty. And so, men and women seek to dethrone him, to depose him.
Now, that would be a very, very gloomy picture if that was the end of the story, but it isn’t the end of the story. There is no need for despair because of God’s eternal plan. Because before creation, God had a plan to put things right by reestablishing his kingdom through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s plan focused on his Son, and this whole notion of the kingdom which we’re using to make our way through the Bible helps us to understand.
Last time, we noticed that in the spoiled kingdom there was sin and there was, as a result, judgment, and that judgment represented in death. But that is not the whole story; there is another aspect to it, and that aspect is simply God’s amazing grace. Sin is met by God’s judgment, but God also shows his great mercy.
Now, let me just illustrate this for you from the early chapters of the book of Genesis, so that sin and judgment are also accompanied by God’s grace. God’s grace seen in “the serpent crusher.” Genesis 3:15—this wonderfully enigmatic statement that many of us are aware of, certainly those of us who did theology have fancy Latin names for this, which are really out with any of our concern this evening: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman,” says God, “and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” He banishes Adam and Eve from the garden, but he still loves them. He still looks for them, he provides clothes for them—in verse 21—to cover their nakedness, and he gives a promise to them here in verse 15. And in this promise, there is this inkling; there is this hint; there is this first, if you like, indication of the gospel story of how sin, met by judgment, is also accompanied by grace: “You are banished from the garden, you are the recipients of death, you are barred from reentry, but I’ve come to call on you, and I’ve come to provide clothes for you, and I have made this promise to you.” And what does the promise say? Well, that sometime in the future, a son of Eve—a human being—will destroy the evil one. In other words, it is simply a veiled prophecy regarding the work of the Lord Jesus. And when we get into the New Testament, we realize that in the cross, Jesus inflicted defeat on Satan, and one day he’s coming back and he’s going to complete the job; that Satan is a defeated foe—he’s out at the back door waiting for the garbage truck to come—and when Jesus returns and wraps everything up, he will finally be cast into the lake of fire. And that is his eternal destiny. And that is assured on account of the cross, and that is hinted at in this prophecy here.
Now, I want to give to you a quote from my good friend, Alec Motyer, which is kinda like an honors quote for those of you who are doing honors in this course. And you’ll know who you are. The rest of you just say, “It must have been an interesting quote,” and then I’ll pick you up in just about less than one minute. Here you go; this is for the honors group: “We must be careful not to allow the use of serpent imagery, crawling and death by the crushing of the head, to make us think that the serpent as such is merely part of the imagery. The serpent is he, the usurper of the divine right to direct creation, the corrupter of the Word of God, the one who denies the truth of divine judgment on sin and rebellion, the deceiver of humankind, the author and instigator of a fallen creation, but nevertheless destined at last to be crushed.” Okay?
Secondly, the mark of Cain is an indication of God’s grace; you’ll read of this in Genesis 4. After killing Abel, Cain is driven into exile, but he’s not completely abandoned. The Lord marks Cain so that if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over. So, you see, mercy is combined with judgment. You find the same thing in the great statement here in the first genealogy—chapter 5—where in verse 24, it is different from all of the other verses. If you read through the genealogy—and we mentioned this last time—sin gives way to death, and one of the indications of that, we said, was in the genealogy. But when you read the genealogy, you discover that the punishment of death falls on every generation, but the depressing refrain “and then he died… and then he died… and then he died….” It goes all the way through. That isn’t there in verse 24. It says, “Enoch walked with God; [and] then he was no more, because God took him away.” What is this? Everybody else: “and then he died… and then he died… and then he died….” But Enoch? He “walked with God” and “he was no more, because God took him away.” Now, what is this? It’s simply holding out the hope, even in a fallen world, that it is possible to know God and escape the penalty of death—with just a little inkling, just a little sign, just a little, “Isn’t that surprising?” Just a “I wonder what that’s pointing to?”
And, perhaps supremely, you see the evidence of God’s grace in the midst of judgment in his covenant with Noah—in his covenant with Noah. And now we are in 6:18, he says to Noah, “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.” And that is preceded by this wonderful statement—I like it best in the Authorized Version: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” In the NIV: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” Now, pay careful attention to this, and you will be rewarded—notice in verse 5: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become.” All are sinful, including Noah. All right? “The Lord was grieved that he … made man on the earth … his heart was filled with pain.” This is a statement concerning the totality of his creation, including Noah. Therefore, is it not remarkable that you then read verse 8? “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” God chose him and his family to be the recipients of his grace. And he provides for him by means of this covenant—as I’ve pointed to you in verse 18—telling him that he is going to establish this relationship with him, a relationship that has not existed before.
Now, the best definition of covenant that I could find is as follows—I suppose it should be before you; I apologize for it not being—and it goes as follows: “The coming into existence of a stated and continuing relationship between two parties who previously were apart from each other.” If you want to write it down I’ll say it slowly enough for you: “The coming into existence of a stated and continuing relationship between two parties who were previously apart from each other.” “The coming into existence of a stated and continuing relationship between two parties who were previously apart from each other.” I think we almost have it memorized, don’t we? “The coming into … a stated and continuing relationship between two parties who previously were apart from each other.” All right?
Now, the thing to notice in this is the initiative of God. What part does Noah have in this? None. God takes the initiative here, introduces himself to Noah without discussion and without negotiation. It is, if you like, an imposition of grace—an imposition of grace. And that becomes very clear if you’ll just reread the whole section regarding Noah and the flood. The facts are set out in such a way as to exclude human initiative, human contribution, or human deserving. God saw that the whole thing was a mess, was a disaster, that man had grieved him—he “was grieved that he had made man.” The whole thing was worthy of his divine condemnation and judgment. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” How come—how come? But you see, that’s the question that any of us ought to ask: How come? When we understand grace in all of its fullness, it diminishes us, and it exalts God. It makes us realize that it is actually all about him, in his kindness to us. If anything is going to be done in this dreadful context of the opening verses of Genesis 6, it must originate by God, and it must be carried through by God. If you read verses 5 through 7 again, it’s all about “the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness [was] … the Lord was grieved that he … made man on the earth …. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth….’” In other words, without exception the whole human race is involved in wickedness. It is involved outwardly: on “the face of the earth.” It is involved inwardly: in “the thoughts of his heart.” And it is involved equally in that there are no exceptions to those who are facing the prospect of God’s judgment as a result of man’s rebellion.
So, the story is clear: All have sinned. All are alienated. All must die. “But Noah”—but Noah. This is a situation where Noah can make no claim on God, and where God, contrary to any merit or any deserving on the part of Noah, and against all the odds, intervenes with amazing grace.
Now, let me just pause here and allow this to settle in your minds, because many of you have been brought up with the idea that you don’t get grace in the Bible till somehow or another you get out of the Old Testament. That in the early days, it’s all fire and brimstone and law and judgment and everything else, and you’ve got to wait till later on till someone else shows up or somebody turns a corner before we can start the grace thing. No, you see, grace precedes creation, and grace unfolds in the midst of judgment. “With mercy and with judgment,” says the hymn writer in “The Sands of Time [are] Sinking,”
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye the dews of sorrow
[Are] lustered [by] His love:—
[And] I’ll bless the hand that guided,
I’ll bless the heart that planned
When [glory,] glory dwelleth,
In Immanuel’s land.
Now, do you see this? It is a formula which safeguards a pure understanding of grace, which is the outreaching of the free, unmerited favor of God. Grace is the outreaching of the free, unmerited favor of God. All sinned. All were under judgment. All deserved death. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”
You see, Noah was just an ordinary chap. He was like everybody else: he was wicked inwardly and outwardly; he grieved God; he was under his divine sentence. And the only thing that eventually distinguishes him from the rest of humanity is the grace of God—unexplained and unmerited—which is come to him. And actually, it would be better if the sentence read differently, wouldn’t it, because it’s not that Noah has found grace by merit or by effort, but it is rather that grace has found him. But some of you are reading ahead, and you’re saying, “Oh, but look at verse 9: ‘This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.’” Well, what do you want to tell me? I don’t think that verse 9 is the explanation of verse 8; I think verse 9 is the consequence of verse 8. Do you get that? I mean, if grace is the outreaching of free unmerited favor to somebody who’s messed up as everybody else, and we’re then going to turn that on its head in one verse and say, “Oh no, but we can understand why God chose Noah, because Noah was such a great guy. He was blameless. That’s the explanation: verse 9 explains verse 8.” No, I don’t think so. I think verse 9 is the consequence of verse 8: he’s distinguished only by grace.
Now, just as an aside, let me remind you of when Paul writes to Titus and he tells him, “I want you to, I want you to clean things up and get everything finished up there in Ephesus.” He says, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward[s] all men. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived … enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” So, the only thing that distinguishes us from the culture is the same thing that marked Noah out from the people of his day: the unmerited, outreaching favor of God.
Do you see how ugly spiritual pride is in any of us? Do we understand how distasteful we must appear to many of our non-Christian friends and loved ones when we speak as if salvation is all about us, when we talk about ourselves as if somehow or another we were smart enough, you know, to tune in to the idea? But when the grace of God in all of its amazing dimensions grips a heart, then we’ll speak like beggars to other beggars, telling them where we found a wonderful stash of food, in the dumpster behind McDonald’s.
Now, our time is gone, but let me try and just wrap this up. Let me see what goes on the screen next: oh yes, covenant. So, a little discourse on a covenant for a moment. I’ve really done that for you—describing it for you—and God gives a sign, you will notice, and gives this wonderful sign to Noah, which marks it out for him.
I was staggered this week when I read in chapter 9—I’d never noticed this before—in chapter 9 in verse 16, God says, “I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind.” He promises Noah that he will rescue his family. And then after he’s rescued him and after the flood has subsided, he comes back in verse 11 of chapter 9, he says, “I establish my covenant with you: [and] Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” “No more floods to destroy, Noah,” he said. “You don’t ever need to worry about that again.” Although human sin continues, God is committed to his creation. He is not finished with his world; he is determined to fulfill his eternal plan. And after the flood there is a fresh start. And on account of this fresh start, he gives this wonderfully clear sign: it’s massive, and it’s public, and it’s a rainbow: “Whenever I bring,” verse 14, “clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind.” Look at this! God says—he doesn’t say, “This is what the signs means to you”; he says, “This is what the sign means to me.”
Now, from Sunday school we told one another: “Whenever you see a rainbow, this is a sign for you so that you can remember that God will never flood the world.” Actually, apparently, it’s a sign for God so that he can remember never to flood the world. You say, “Don’t be crazy. God doesn’t need a reminder; he doesn’t need an alarm clock.” No, it’s anthropomorphism. The Bible risks the anthropomorphism to make the very point, that the revelation of what the sign means to God is made the bearer of eternal truth to Noah, who’s the covenant man—it’s a wonderful thought! So that Noah, when he sees a rainbow, can be certain of its changeless meaning, and he can rest in faith in what it says to him. And in this way, the basic meaning of the covenant sign is established. Covenant signs express covenant promises for God’s covenant people. And when we come back, we’ll see that in Abraham with the sign of circumcision, and we’ll see it in Moses with the giving of the Sabbath, and we’ll see it in the new covenant in baptism.
But for now, our time is gone, and we have to stop.
Father, I pray that you would help us not to worry too much if we haven’t completely got this, because the further we go, the more we hope the penny will drop and the picture will unfold. So, help us not to be alarmed if we can’t see the wood for the trees, but help us at least to get ahold of this tonight: that even in the midst of judgment and death, you are a gracious and merciful God. And were that not the case, none of us could call you Father, nor could we ever call Jesus our Savior. And we look away from ourselves, and we remind ourselves that his oath and his covenant and his blood support us when we feel as though we’re about to be overwhelmed by the flood. In other words, we look out to who you are and to what you have done, because when we look in to who we are, and to what we are accomplishing, there’s all kinds of ground for despair and fearfulness. Thank you for your undeserved, outreaching, unmerited favor in Jesus, and in his name we pray. Amen.
 Ephesians 1:5–6 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 6:9 (paraphrased).
 Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain” (1972). Paraphrased.
 Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2004), 34.
 Genesis 6:8 (KJV).
 Genesis 6:8 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 6:6 (NIV 1984).
 Source Unknown. For a similar definition, see Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary Online, s.v. “covenant,” by Gerard Van Groningen, accessed October 15, 2018, https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/covenant.html.
 Anne R. Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857).
 Titus 3:1–5 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 9:16 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 9:11 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 9:14 (NIV 1984).
 Edward Mote, “The Solid Rock” (1834). Paraphrased.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.